Publish, Release, Launch: Some of The What and When of Book Publishing

james pattersonI will let you in on a secret: no one, not even the big publishers, know exactly when to publish a book.  Yes, there are some givens, like making sure you are able to get into holiday and other promotions like Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc. Then there are books by authors that consumers are trained to buy in a certain month based on its availability.  I’m talking about Michael Connelly, James Patterson, and others who write at least one book per year.

I should also mention the reason a book is usually published on a certain date is because of marketing and publicity reasons.  We try to get books out there when they will be featured most prominently and when the media are interested in what the titles and authors have to say. 

For self-published authors I recommend that they publish the book as soon as it is ready.  I call this a “soft publication.”   Your “media date” or “hard publication” can be  whenever you think the stars are going to align with media coverage and the success of your marketing—or when you think you can sell the most books!

I’m going to try to break down what the norms are in terms of publication months, but first I need to address some lingo that is tossed around and needs to be clarified.

Publication: This means that your book is on the market and available for sale via any and all distribution channels.

Release: This usually means the date that books are shipped from a distribution center to online and retail stores.  However, I’ve seen it used interchangeably with “publication” but for some people it means something different.  I’m not saying you are wrong for using the word, but knowing that there are other meanings out there might help clear up some confusion.

Launch: This term is a pet peeve of mine, because using this word implies there is some kind of event attached to the publication of your book.  If you are a celebrity or famous person and/or your book has breaking news that is going to dictate an entire news cycle, then perhaps “launch” is a good word to use.  But I caution people about calling publication a launch, because I think there are inherent expectations associated with using the word that can potentially be cause for disappointment.  

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Having said all of this, here are some monthly breakdowns that I have generally experienced as the accepted publication patterns:

January (Or “New Year, New You”)

Self-help; diet; inspirational; business—if you fit into this category, this is what the media are generally interested in, and it’s what consumers are thinking about.

February 

Self-help associated with relationships; debut authors; business; fiction—if you are a debut author, this month is not as full of new titles and there may be more promotion and media opportunities for you as a result.

March

Debut authors; mysteries; fiction

April

Women’s fiction

May

Beach reads; women’s fiction; biographies; books on mountain climbing

June

More beach reads; women’s fiction; biographies or other non-fiction that will appeal to male readers on vacation or for Father’s Day

July

Quieter month better for debut authors; more of what you saw in June

August

Debut authors; education related titles; narrative non-fiction by lesser known writers

September

Public affairs and politics; serial authors in fiction and non-fiction; cooking; highly publicized titles by debut authors

October

More politics; cooking; big non-fiction titles by well-known personalities and writers; higher end photography books; art books

November

Photography; art; gift books; big names; and anything else you can think of that will sell in the current budget year

December

Good month for lesser known authors.  A variety of books are published including late comers for Christmas or those titles that people want to get a jump on for January

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You may notice that the categories are not always dictated firmly in one month or another—this is what I mean about the secret.  In the end what everyone wants to do is get the book out there at the best possible moment.  But you need to consider what you can control and what you can’t.  After you make your best educated decision, you have to go with it and plan as if it will be the biggest “launch” you’ve ever seen! 😉

Do You Know What a Book Publicist Does?

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do you know what a book publicist does claire mckinneyDo you know what a book publicist does?

At lunch with publicist friends, there’s one question that we always seem to come back to: does anyone in this business know what we actually do? Yes, yes, every author says they “want” a publicist, but how many authors, and those who work in publishing, actually understand what a publicist does and, more importantly, what can reasonably be expected from their publicity campaign?

People in this business still assume that the only good thing a publicist does is book appearances on Oprah or The Today Show or Good Morning America. Even though this circuit is outdated—Oprah’s show is off the air, GMA is closing in on the Today show’s ratings, and The Early Show just went through another reorganization—people in publishing still think these are the rounds a publicist makes. This needs to change.

I came into the publishing industry accidentally, and took to the role of publicist quite naturally; I’ve been doing it for 15 years. I’ve worked on campaigns for everything from children’s books to adult trade; cookbooks to philosophy; literary fiction to self-help—and I’ll tell you, as I’ve told everyone who has ever worked for me and with me, making a book is a long, difficult process. Nonetheless, when there’s blame about how the final product fares in the market, it often seems to fall on the publicist. Why?

Why would an author take his frustrations out on the person most directly linked to the consumers in the promotional process? Why are the notions of what a publicist does so cloudy? And why, in an era where lack of publicity is repeatedly cited as a major reason books fail, are so many publicists with years of experience struggling to keep their jobs?

Blame it on the digital revolution. Blame it on the homogenized media culture.Blame it on whomever, or whatever, you choose. One problem, aside from the difficulty of getting good publicity for a book, is dealing with misunderstandings about what a publicist can reasonably do.

Right now there are still two overarching umbrellas that classify book publicity campaigns. There are the “big” books that are positioned and sold to the “big” traditional media, and there are all the other books which, well, aren’t sold to the “big” traditional media. And when I say this, I’m not saying all of the other books don’t warrant the same attention as the big books, or that they won’t get a national break, or that they are lesser in any way. I’m saying that, still, there are basically two tracks we think about, and that’s a problem.

That not every book will be right for the “big” media spots is one problem, but it’s a reality. Too often, though, there seems to be anger about not getting those “big” spots instead of an open admission that there are lots of great press hits to be had on smaller outlets and in nontraditional ways.

There are hundreds of television, print, and radio venues, just like the old days. But now there is the Web and there’s social media. You can do viral campaigns. You can give away content in the form of actual books on blogs, or digitally in chapters on any and all Web sites.Can you, the publicist, work with online marketing to coordinate a campaign using some of these tools? Yes. Do you need to know even more people than ever before, collecting contacts like a paper clip magnet? Yes. Will you be able to do this for every book on your list? Probably not. But it would help if these “nontraditional” campaigns stopped being tagged as such. Book publicity is no longer about organizing a “big” or “small” campaign, and publicists know this, but the rest of the industry does not seem to have quite caught up.

So if you are a book publicist like me and one of your more irascible authors is quoted in New York magazine basically saying that publicists are worthless, close your eyes, count to 10, and remember that you have the power and the skill set to go out there and brave a new frontier of media. You will do things that haven’t been done before, and while you accept the well-deserved pat on the back that so rarely comes your way, you can take comfort in the fact that others are quietly saying, “How did she do that?”

(This article was originally published in Publishers Weekly titled “Do You Know What a Book Publicist Does?” and online here.)